Is Prison Reform Gaining Momentum?

The Seattle Times published an oped piece in Sunday’s paper that is definitely worth reading.  The piece (available here) highlights the unfathomable fact that the land of the free and home of the brave has the dubious distinction of incarcerating more of it citizens than any other country in the world.  The associated costs are propelling all levels of government spending into the stratosphere.

The prison boom of the past three decades is not sustainable going forward and we are currently seeing a diminished return on investment.  The availability of viable alternatives to incarceration are well documented but lack political expedience.  Until now.  With budgets deep in the red now may be the opportune time to openly discuss a system that is failing to serve or protect.

The following are excerpts of this must read piece:

The grim statistics noted: Some 2.3 million people, more than the population of 15 of our states, are now incarcerated — one in 100 adults. That’s quadruple our 1970 imprisonment rate. For hard-to-defend reasons, and at staggering fiscal cost, we incarcerate people at a rate five times Great Britain’s, nine times Germany’s, 12 times Japan’s.

Why long sentences when classic penology says swift and certain punishment is what works? We already have more than 200,000 prisoners over 50, often in failing health (with vast medical costs). Yet if released, they’re unlikely to offend again… when schools and social services are being cut to the bone, do long sentences serve the public interest?

There’s emerging evidence, developed by such groups as the Pew Center on the States and the Vera Institute of Justice, that we’ve reached a point of diminishing, if any, public-safety returns from cascading levels of imprisonment. Some states have begun to reform their practices and reduce incarceration, without impairing public safety.

Reform’s potential net effect? Saving billions of public dollars, for sure. But also fewer disrupted families, embittered ex-cons, and communities impacted by high percentages of youth imprisoned.